Jobs Aren’t Enough   5 comments

Every time I hear that the administration needs to focus on job creation or that X number of jobs have been created last month, I can’t help but wonder what kind of jobs people are talking about. Because it’s not just jobs we need. America desperately needs well-paying jobs. The type of jobs that will allow workers to buy more than the bare necessities. The type of jobs that make home ownership possible. The type of jobs that do not leave workers dependent on government assistance. The type of jobs that produce substantial tax revenue. The type of jobs that have been eliminated in droves to be replaced–in so far as they are replaced at all–by ever lower paying jobs.

The reason the economy–and with it the country–is going down the tubes can be summed up as too much wealth in too few hands. For a while, rising property values and easy availability of consumer credit shielded most people (and the economy as a whole) from feeling the pain associated with stagnant middle and working class wages, but the massive income inequality at the root of our problems has been in the making for at least thirty years. And it has finally caught up with us. The growing number of people at the bottom of the income pyramid are going without because they can’t afford to buy much-needed products and services, while those at the top horde much of their income because they already have far more than they will ever need. Unfortunately their greed knows no bounds, so we’re seeing 25% pay increases for senior executives, while low income workers in the same company must subsist on minimum wage.

Speaking of which, what’s the point of having a minimum wage that doesn’t pay enough to live on? At $8/hr, California’s minimum wage is higher than the federal minimum wage, but it’s still grossly inadequate. According to the California Budget Project, a single adult with no kids needs to earn twice the minimum wage just to make ends meet. Note that this budget does not allow for any vacation time ever (unthinkable in the rest of the developed world), nor does it include saving money for retirement or a down payment on a house. Also not included are dental/vision coverage/care, Internet access, cable or satellite TV, costs of having a pet, travel, entertainment (e.g., movies, concerts, video games, music), or saving for emergencies (such as car repairs or the included health care plan’s $500 deductible). And, of course, the cost of having and raising kids isn’t included. Families with children need to earn three to four times the minimum wage to get by.

When Californians without kids make less than $16/hr, they must either work substantially longer than 40 hours per week and/or receive government assistance and/or get by without necessities such as food, housing, transportation, and health care. And when the government is forced to assist low income workers employed by large corporations with food, housing, or health care expenses, taxpayers are essentially subsidizing the shareholder profits and humongous executive salaries of companies that can’t be bothered to pay their workers a living wage. Not letting them get away with this would be a good first step.

Small businesses are trickier. I’m not talking about the “small” business with 500 employees or the small business owner who buys himself a new Jaguar while his secretary makes $10/hr with no benefits. But for a struggling entrepreneur, paying $16-20/hr may not be possible. I realize there are those who argue that undercapitalized entrepreneurs shouldn’t be the problem of either workers or the government, but I don’t see how we benefit if entrepreneurs give up their dream of running their own business and rejoin the workforce as employees. So, in cases of genuine financial hardship, I would favor the government temporarily subsidizing the wages of small business employees to make up the difference between today’s minimum wage and a true living wage in the hope that the business can become profitable enough to pay workers what they’re worth.

Instituting a living wage for the lowest income workers would provide a tremendous boost to the economy because, unlike extra income flowing to the wealthy, every additional dollar going to low income workers is pumped right back into the economy, increasing demand for goods and services and decreasing the need for government assistance. And yet, living wage jobs would pay just enough to get by. There’s no discretionary income for large consumer purchases and no room for savings, nor do these jobs produce substantial tax revenue. That will require creation of the type of middle income jobs that were once the backbone of the American middle class.

Unfortunately middle income jobs are exactly what’s being eliminated. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are now 17 million college-educated Americans working in jobs far below their educational level (to say nothing of the millions, including many recent graduates, who can’t find work at all), and yet we’re still hearing that the problem is an “education gap” or a “skills mismatch.” If only the unemployed and underemployed would acquire new skills or get a college degree, everything would be fine.

What complete and utter bullshit. The problem isn’t a lack of skilled workers; the problem is a lack of well-paying jobs. THAT is where the focus needs to be. But that’s a systemic problem requiring systemic solutions, and we’d much rather focus on individual solutions. After all, there’s no systemic injustice and exploitation going on in this country. Low income workers just need to learn to budget better! The unemployed and underemployed just need to go back to school to rack up more skills and degrees–and more debt! Anything to keep the focus away from the class warfare the rich have been waging against the rest of us for over thirty years.


5 responses to “Jobs Aren’t Enough

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  1. “According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are now 17 million college-educated Americans working in jobs far below their educational level (to say nothing of the millions, including many recent graduates, who can’t find work at all)” That would be me. Unfortunately, as of now, I have no ideas how to fix the problem.

    • Welcome to the club. I’ve been meaning to respond to this post and your comment for days but kept getting side tracked.

      Unfortunately,whether you’re employed at an income that makes you want to scream (::raises hand::) or out of work entirely, other than “keep applying and hope” or “start your own business and hope” or “look for new angles and hope” there’s not a lot that individuals can do to fix the systemic problem. Theoretically, voting in politicians with good plans should work, but something like 90% of the Dems are nearly as bad as the Republicans as far as structural solutions to the problem.

      Imagine if they’d spent all that money given to bail out millionaires and billionaires in the banking industry on creating solar energy panels and paying everyone involved, from security guards to unskilled construction workers to project publicists a living wage. And that’s not counting all the privately contracted panel manufacturing jobs that could have existed at the same time. And it would have helped the environment and our energy independence at the same time, plus given us a head start on the future.

      Plus, I keep reading all OVER the place about the shortage of science jobs in America and all the out of work scientists (which is kinda funny, given the great “we must educate more scientists to fill those jobs” mantra both government and some corporations have been bleating lately). Alternate energy research would provide a lot of jobs for those scientists, as would drug research and probably a jillion other potentially helpful things.

      And it’s not like there isn’t plenty of infrastucture that needs repairing, and wilderness areas that need managing (the Park Service has also had to lay off tons of people over the last decade or so) and so on and so forth. I can’t even begin to cover everything.

      And all of this would lead to more people spending money, creating more demand in the private sector, more companies would begin hiring to meet the demand, more companies would start up and succeed with new products, providing yet more jobs and so on.

      And all this could be funded purely by raising taxes on the rich.. Raise it to Clinton-era levels, and you fix all our deficit and social security issues. raise it to 60’s era levels, and there would be extra funds for damn near whatever you want to do. (it’s funny, the conservatives also like to point to the 50’s as America’s golden age. The top tax rate in the 50’s was 91%, iirc. It was cut to 70% in the 60’s, which was still a good economic time. The Clinton taxes it is now popular to rail against — by both republicans and the Obama administration -were really just the bare minimum needed to enable everything to run well.)

      Personally, I would love to see massive demonstrations for jobs programs, living wage mandates and a general shift in economic policies, of the sort that hit politicians and corporations where they care about—not out in a big area for a great photo shoot, but blocking the doors to their offices, so they would HAVE to listen, whether they wanted to or not, simply in order to get to their cars or to eat lunch or whatever.

      Not holding my breath on this happening, tho. First, you have to convince enough people this would work, or at least *could* work, and not just be a long, unpleasant, unfun, sweaty waste of time. Hurdle 1. Hurdle 2 would be getting a getting enough people to agree on pushing a particular solution or set of solutions. That would likely be the hardest to overcome. And finally, the logistics of getting people who were behind you in theory to show up, in large enough and passionate enough numbers over a long enough period of time.

      Or, actually persuade our current politicians to put the public interest over servicing large campaign donors and actually advocate a slate of policies that owuld push genuinely helpful legislation and a genuinely competitive business atmosphere that allowed for living wages, sort of like the computer industry used to be. Or get a slate of sane candidates to run for the dems, or get enough of a voting block behind a third party. Personally, I think you got a better chance with the door-blocking protests.

      • Keep in mind

        If Walmart (a company which costs state governments more than it pays in taxes, because of the subsidies paid to its employees for healthcare, childcare, food stamps and assistance) paid all its minimum wage employees $12/hr, and chose to pass all those costs onto the consumer, the average shopping trip would be increased by only $0.46.

        There’s a reason they want wages kept low, and it ain’t low prices.

  2. I can’t remember where I saw this, but I read somewhere that this strategy may be backfiring. Apparently sales are down because many minimum wage workers (including their own employees) are doing so poorly in this economy, they can no longer afford to shop at Walmart. They’re shopping at the dollar stores instead.

    Smart capitalists understand that you’ve got to pay people enough to afford your products. Unfortunately our government and the corporations that own it are run by a bunch of myopic fools whose boundless greed is destroying this country. I guess they’re counting on the emerging markets of China and India to provide them with consumers.

  3. I just discovered this website and your posts are so true.

    Politicians march up on their little podiums looking sad and lamenting statistics about unemployment when really they are spewing out complete bullshit. Capitalism loves the unemployed–it’s how they can rip off, and practically enslave the underemployed. If a minimum wage worker complains about low pay they can easily be fired and replaced with someone who doesn’t have a job. It frankly sickens me. And all so a few (mostly rich white Christian men) can dominate.

    Even Democrats–Michelle Obama’s campaign about healthy eating is disconnected from reality, and over 75% of congress are multi–millionaires. We need to call into question not particular politicians or their policies, but the whole system.

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